The Cost Of Bike Touring: North America

How much will an independent bike tour cost?

You can spend as much or as little as you like in North America. There are plenty of hotels and restaurants that will be happy to cater for you but equally there’s plenty of open land and supermarkets for those on a low budget.

Scroll down to read about bike tourists who’ve recently been there, and their experiences.

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The Cyclists and the Trip: Eric and Amaya spent 9 months bicycle touring in the USA and Western Canada in 2011. They are seasoned budget cyclists on a multi-year tour.

Eric & Amaya

The Cost: $7 per person, per day.

We are very creative when it comes to keeping down food and accommodation costs. We find free places to pitch the tent at churches, public parks, fire stations, schools, rodeo grounds, picnic areas or in a farmer’s field and use Couchsurfing and Warm Showers in bigger cities. We try to stock up on food at large discount supermarkets in big towns.

Tips: Amaya and Eric have several tips!

  • If you stick to popular Adventure Cycling Association routes like the TransAmerica, many towns along the way will be set up to receive cyclists at local parks, churches, fire stations and other community centers. You’ll have a free place to pitch your tent plus access to a hot shower.
  • The only drawback to following ACA routes is that they seldom pass through large towns, where you will find well-stocked supermarkets with reasonable prices. If you detour to discount supermarkets and stock up for a few days, you can make a huge difference to your food budget. At small town supermarkets, look for bargains on items which are about to expire and on day-old baked goods.
  • On the popular Pacific Coast route through Oregon and California, Hiker-Biker campsites cost just a few dollars a night. In the off-season, when campgrounds are officially closed, it’s unlikely that anyone will bother you if you slip in quietly for the night. Free camping is also allowed at primitive Bureau of Land Management sites.
  • In rural areas, people are very accommodating if you ask to pitch your tent on their property. You’ll seldom be turned away and more often than not you’ll be invited in for a meal. Having a flyer with a short write-up about your tour and who you are will build trust.
  • Be sure to stop in at tourist information bureaus for excellent free road maps and (if you’re lucky) free internet, coffee and cookies. Another good spot for free internet is public libraries.

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The Cyclist & The Trip: Dom began cycling around the U.S.A. in May 2011. He’s a low budget traveller and has managed to keep his costs down by never paying for accommodation and always eating out of supermarkets.

Dom Luther

The Cost: Under $10 U.S. per person, per day. For 5 months of his trip, Dom travelled with his sister. “During that time we spent a total of $3,200 U.S. on everything including a few major bike things that are not to be expected. My sister started with a bike that didn’t fit her (the frame was too large) and had to pay to get a bunch of things changed. Even still, we spent around $10 U.S. a day each.”

Since starting to tour by myself, I’ve spent around $700 U.S. in 100 days. About half of that was for food. I didn’t spend anything on accommodation. I use WarmShowers, stumble upon strangers, knock on doors and wild camp. I don’t carry a stove and my breakfast tends to be oatmeal while snacks, lunches and dinners are something wrapped in a tortilla such as peanut butter and a banana or beans. My goal is to spend no more than $10 U.S. a day but I try to spend less.

Tips: “People are spectacular and so many are willing to help if you ask for it. They’ve been the highlight of my trip and some of my favourite stories (such as this one) came from knocking on people’s doors and asking for help. The interactions themselves are glorious and you save money as well by not having to pay for a place to stay. I’ve not paid for a place to sleep in the last 3 months.”

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Can You Help?
Keeping these sections up-to-date and adding new sections relies on the community. That’s you!

If you’ve recently been on tour and can tell us about your daily budget, please Get In Touch and share your answers to these 3 basic questions:

1. What did you spend per person, per day on average? This is for daily expenses like food, hotels, public transport within a country but not exceptional extras like bike repair, flights to/from the country.

2. Can you briefly describe your style of travel? Are you ultra low budget (e.g. a devoted wild camper, cook all your own food) or more medium budget (e.g. will occasionally splash out on a hotel, meal in restaurant)?

3. Any tips you want to share related to costs in this region? Was something particularly cheap or expensive? How would you recommend others save money?

We’ll add your answers to the relevant page, along with a photo of you on tour and a link to your bike touring blog (if you have one). Thanks!

Comments

  1. Tom Allen
    29th May 2012 at 11:09 pm #

    In my two months here (Vancouver to Los Angeles) I’ve also found that supermarkets vary wildly in price. In general, Grocery Outlet seems to be the cheapest, and Safeway seems to be by far the most expensive (whilst pretending to be cheap).

    We had some luck diving dumpsters, which can often be found round the back of supermarkets (unfortunately many outlets use trash compactors). Trader Joe’s and Grocery Outlet are good bets for this.

    Farmers’ markets are good places to haggle or get free food as they’re closing up, and the food is usually good quality.

    Ethnic supermarkets (commonly Chinese/Mexican) seem to be significantly cheaper for meat, fresh fruit and vegetables than supermarkets.

    In the big cities there are also ‘food banks’ which give away free day-old baked goods, organic produce and other expiring bits and bobs from the fussier groceries – lists of times/days/locations available from public libraries.

    I’ve heard stories from people who’ve sustained long-term travel in the U.S. without any money at all, using a combination of these methods!

    • friedel
      30th May 2012 at 6:49 am #

      Tom, did you know that you can get a free Safeway ‘customer’ card, which will save you some money? If I remember correctly, you can’t get the in-store deals without it. We used it a lot when travelling across the U.S.

      • Kat S.
        12th July 2014 at 5:07 am #

        Even with their member card Safeway is obnoxiously overpriced.

        In California, where available, Food Max and Winco (which has a great bulk food section to buy only what you need to carry) are the overall cheapest.

        Gross Out (used endearingly btw) has some of the best low priced organic and exotic food choices generally available… but do shop carefully as not every item is a deal.

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